Magazine article The Futurist

FutureProbe: Imagining Possibilities, Creating Opportunities

Magazine article The Futurist

FutureProbe: Imagining Possibilities, Creating Opportunities

Article excerpt

"The future is like a roller coaster ride," David P. Snyder told attendees at the World Future Society's annual conference. "The problems going on now are not the result of faltering leadership, but merely part of a historical cycle of change."

By being aware of the cycle's highs and lows, we may come to better understand our world and ourselves. But we must be prepared to deal with rapid social and technological change, said Snyder, who is principal of Snyder Family Enterprise, a consulting firm in Bethesda, Maryland.

"In past decades, people had a choice concerning change. They didn't necessarily have to be the ones risking it all by being pioneers," Snyder said. "But now people are enveloped in the future. The vast majority of Americans will soon have no choice but to be innovators and pioneers in the face of such constant change."

Snyder was among nearly 150 futurists and other experts speaking at the three-day conference, "Future-Probe: Imagining Possibilities, Creating Opportunities," held July 18-20, 1995, in Atlanta, Georgia. Co-chaired by Rita Callahan, an Atlanta consultant, and David Medendorp, president of the MVE Corporation, the meeting attracted more than 800 participants from across the United States and some 30 other countries to discuss topics ranging from artificial intelligence to conscious communities, from creative-thinking skills to chaos theory for crisis prevention.

Tomorrow's Cities

The cities of the future will be different from those of today. In addition to new styles of construction, buildings will also feature "intelligent" systems and materials, according to Joseph F. Coates, futurist and president of the consulting firm, Coates & Jarratt, Inc. "Most of the stuff will be behind the walls, things that we won't see."

Cities of the future will feature "dynamic structures made of featherweight, superstrong materials," said Coates. Sensors will check for wind, stress, and other potentially problematic factors associated with buildings. Biotechnology will take care of waste processing and purification. Genetic engineering will be used to design "urban-suited" foliage - trees, shrubs, and flowers that fare better under city conditions than do their rural cousins.

Coates warned, however, that cities in the Third World may not fare as well as those in developed countries. Conditions will be "congested and oppressive" unless pre-emptive steps are taken. Lack of space, limited amenities, and sewage processing could all contribute to an urban crisis of major proportions.

"One contribution that the West can make toward city construction in the Third World is better use of indigenous materials," rather than the prohibitively expensive building materials used in developed countries, said Coates. He also suggested using an Asian model of sewage processing, designed to "turn waste into a resource." He cited the example of garden plots around apartment buildings being fertilized by the residents' own treated waste.

The Information Age

Richard K. Snelling, president of Videoconferencing Systems, Inc., spoke on the impact of information technologies on the Olympic Games. "Over three billion people from 185 countries will be watching the Olympics in 1996, and multimedia technology will be a major part of it," he said. Some 100 million multimedia personal computers will be used at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, according to Snelling. Multimedia is coming into more widespread use, principally because of the growing memory capability of computers, enhanced realism of video images, and higher degrees of interconnectivity and interactiveness of the technologies.

"The Information Age is causing many of the changes happening in our economies and governments," futurist Clay Colebathe told attendees. Businesses will have to change from merely accumulating and processing information to acquiring and applying the knowledge contained therein; in other words, they must move from the Information Age to the Knowledge Age. …

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